Looking Back Yet Focused Forward

 Gentex Corporation

Looking Back Yet Focused Forward

Neil Boehm
Vice President of Engineering, Gentex Corporation

Nearly four decades ago, a small, US-based automotive supplier invented the automatic-dimming rearview mirror, a light sensing and glare elimination technology that has grown into a multi-billion-dollar subindustry. Today, Gentex celebrates its 50th anniversary, having expanded its capabilities not only in automotive, but also the aerospace, fire protection, and medical industries.

But even as it pioneers the evolution of rear vision, Gentex continues to look forward, cultivating competencies in microelectronics, software development, displays, glass processing, and most perhaps most importantly – sensing.

Celebrating 50 Years of Innovation
Gentex Corporation is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. We’re perhaps best known for inventing the automatic-dimming rearview mirror, an automotive safety feature that combines sensors, chemistry, and algorithmic decision-making to detect and eliminate dangerous rearview mirror glare. We shipped over 50 million auto-dimming mirror units in 2023 to automakers around the globe.

However, since its inception, we’ve used the auto-dimming mirror as a strategic electronic module – a sophisticated, high-performance, cross-platform location for introducing advanced electronic features to the car. Over the years, we’ve integrated numerous features in and around the mirror, including glare elimination, cameras, microphones, displays, telematics components, transactional modules, car-to-home automation, security components, ADAS features, and soon, driver monitoring systems. What many people don’t know, is that at our core, we are a sensing company.

Particulate Sensing
Gentex’s emerging sensing technologies stem from our experience in fire protection, an industry in which we’ve operated for the past five decades. Gentex pioneered the world’s first dual-sensor photoelectric smoke detector, a device less prone to false alarms yet quick to detect slow, smoldering fires. Today, millions of Gentex smoke detectors and signaling devices can be found in hospitals, hotels, office buildings and other commercial properties around the world.

Photoelectric smoke detectors use an optical system comprised of a light source and sensor to actually »see« smoke particulates. When smoke enters the chamber of a photoelectric smoke detector, it scatters the light generated by an infrared LED, some of which falls onto a photodiode and sounds an alarm.
Looking Back Yet Focused Forward
Today, introducing particulate sensing in the automotive space. Gentex is currently working with robotaxi manufacturer ZOOX to introduce the first smoke detector designed to detect smoke and vape within the vehicle environment. Our system places a photoelectric sensing unit within the vehicle’s ductwork to continually sample air quality. If smoke or vape is detected, the vehicle operator could be notified, the vehicle flagged for cleaning, and the offending passenger assessed a fine.

Light Sensing
Sensing light is another internal expertise. Our automatic-dimming mirrors use Gentex-designed and manufactured active light sensors (ALS) to detect and eliminate headlight glare from rearward approaching vehicles. With each interior mirror using two ALS components, this past year alone we produced more than 60 million proprietary light sensors.

Our light sensing expertise was also made manifest in the 2004 launch of SmartBeam, the industry’s first automatic high-beam system. SmartBeam uses a custom CMOS imager and proprietary algorithms to automate high-beam usage. Gentex was the first to deploy CMOS technology in the vehicle environment, which helped usher in dynamic forward lighting and Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS).
Today, millions of Gentex smoke detectors and signaling devices can be found in hospitals, hotels, office buildings and other commercial properties around the world.
Today, we continue to expand our light sensing capabilities. We’re currently developing a smart lighting system for surgical and patient-care environments that allows medical staff to place focused illumination when and where it’s needed. This ongoing development combines our camera and machine vision systems with advanced lighting components to optimize, control, and direct light within medical and surgical environments.

Biometric Sensing
Gentex also continues to cultivate an expertise in biometrics – vehicle-integrated security mechanism that measures and analyzes physical attributes to identify and authenticate the driver prior to granting vehicle and /or information access.

To help provide security for the connected car, we’ve developed a vehicle-based biometric identification system that authenticates the driver to deliver customized security, comfort, and convenience features. The system can also be used to help secure and enhance vehicle-to-home automation services as well as vehicle-to-infrastructure transactions.
The system consists of near-infrared emitters and an iris-scan camera discretely integrated into the rearview mirror. The mirror is the ideal integration position, as it’s a natural location for the driver to look when entering the vehicle. In addition, it provides a consistent feature location across vehicle platforms and can share other electronic components.

Object Sensing & Machine Vision
Yet another area of growing sensing expertise is driver and in-cabin monitoring. Gentex’s core DMS technology uses a mirror-borne camera and emitters to biometrically authenticate the driver and monitor head pose, eye gaze, and other metrics to determine distraction, drowsiness, sudden sickness, and return of manual control in semi-autonomous vehicles. The system can be easily expanded to include 2D and 3D cabin monitoring for detecting passengers, behavior, objects, and even presence of life. As an added benefit, the system can also turn the vehicle into a mobile communications center for making a video phone call, conducting a virtual meeting, or capturing in-cabin selfies.

Looking Back Yet Focused Forward
Looking Back Yet Focused Forward
Looking Back Yet Focused Forward
Gentex is also partnering with ADASKY, a leading developer of thermal imaging technology, on various applications of the company’s propriety LWIR sensors. One such opportunity is with Gentex’s Full Display Mirror (FDM), an intelligent rear-vision system that uses a custom camera and mirror-integrated video display to optimize a vehicle’s rearward view. Gentex recently debuted ADASKY’s thermal sensing technology in an FDM, the first application of thermal technology in a digital rearview mirror. The inclusion of a rearward-facing thermal camera in an FDM system could dramatically improve the driver’s ability to monitor the rearward scene during nighttime driving and identify potential hazards while reversing.

Chemical Sensing
As the industry progresses from passenger vehicles to rideshare and autonomous vehicles, machine olfaction – a digital sense of smell – will become increasingly important. Gentex is currently developing digital olfaction technologies capable of detecting a wide range of airborne chemicals to help fleet operators protect passengers while constantly monitoring the vehicle’s condition and air quality.

One method in development is a nano-fiber sensing technology capable of detecting a wide variety of chemicals. In-vehicle chemical detection could continually sample autonomous vehicle air quality to help identify explosives or incendiary components, biohazards, illicit drugs such as marijuana and fentanyl, and pollutants such as ammonia and other VOCs.
While it’s important to reflect on the past, it’s vital to prepare for and invest in the future. Gentex’s history in sensing has afforded decades of innovation while helping to cultivate a unique set of core competencies that will continue to evolve over the next 50 years.
Dr. Wolfgang Eckelt, High Performance | Top Company Guide